Children love a challenge. They enjoy the sense of mastery over their body and its emotions, especially fear. As they play, they test their abilities, giving themselves new goals and challenges to master. They will take calculated risks to stretch themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. When experiencing moments of apparent risk, their minds are placed in a state of alertness, resourcefulness, and expectancy. Mastering challenges results in giving children a sense of personal power and a satisfying feeling of accomplishment.1

From an early age, children are motivated to take risks and challenge themselves. They show great determination to learn to walk, climb, and ride a bicycle, and are not overly concerned with the inevitable tumbles they experience as they are developing the necessary motor skills and coordination to accomplish the tasks. Children learn about their own strengths and limitations by physically challenging themselves. If they are not overprotected and sheltered from risk, they will learn to make judgments about their own capabilities and make their own reasoned decisions about the risks involved.2

Besides benefitting from physical challenges, children also face social, moral, and intellectual challenges. Within different social settings children develop an understanding of the expectations and rules of society. They build their reasoning skills and learn to negotiate with others. Trying out new ideas and boldly taking on challenges gives children the opportunities to develop their problem-solving skills as well as helping them to become creative, inventive, and resourceful.3

Facing challenges opens children to many emotional feelings. While the challenges may result in building a child’s self-esteem and confidence when accomplishing the task, many children experience worry and anxiety from a fear of danger or failure. A risky activity might cause children to fear getting hurt. Many children experience a fear of heights after they’ve climbed to the top of a tall slide or managed to scale a rock wall.4

Children learn to become good at risk assessment to determine whether they will accept the challenges facing them. A vital part of human development and learning requires allowing children to accept challenges and learn to cope with risks.5

A balanced play environment allows for challenges that aren’t life-threatening or frustrating to the children. But, they do need sufficient challenges to engage their interest. They should be provided a variety of levels of difficulty to choose that match their skill capabilities. They should feel a sense of adventure and freedom while still feeling safe. A playground that allows freedom of choice and a variety of challenges will engage children in play successfully.6

  • 1. “Challenging and Adventurous Play.” PSC WA Professional Support Coordinator. < > 12 Oct. 2010.
  • 2. “Supporting young children to engage with risk and challenge.” Teaching Expertise. < > 12 Oct. 2010.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Coster, Denise and Josie Gleeve. “Children and young people’s views on play and risk-taking.” Play Day Give Us A Go! < > 12 Oct. 2010.
  • 5. Op. cit., “Supporting young children to engage with risk and challenge.”
  • 6. Frost, Joe L. Play and Playscapes. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc., 1992. p.166.